Soccer in the Streets Converts Unused Public Space into a Place to Play
Public transit, like Atlanta’s MARTA stations, tend to take up a lot of land, leaving vacant expanses. In the late 70s, Atlanta’s public transit operator installed an amphitheater at the Five Points station with the hope of revitalizing the neighborhood and making the entertainment center accessible through public transit. However, the amphitheater failed to draw crowds and sat largely unused for decades. Today the space has been converted into a soccer field, the first of its kind to sit inside of a transit station, and the first of a network of fields sprouting up throughout Atlanta.
Atlanta nonprofit, Soccer in the Streets, opened the Five Points field in 2016, and a second field in the West End neighborhood this year. They hope to open a third early next year, and seven more over the next three years. The goal is to create a transit-oriented soccer league where children and parents can take MARTA to different fields. Soccer in the Streets is also working with MARTA to offer children subsidized rides for taking public transportation to soccer games and practices, in hopes of providing the opportunity to travel to play to all communities.
The inaugural fields are already generating positive results. Soccer in the Streets director of strategic projects, Sanjay Patel, stated, “We’re seeing the community come out, families interacting socially, and it’s becoming a third space.”
Since the flagship fields in Atlanta were established, other American cities are interested in following suit. Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago have all contacted Soccer in the Streets for guidance on how to implement similar programs. Not only does station soccer revitalize communities by converting unused space, it incentivizes more commuters to take public transportation. In 2017, Atlanta saw a 2.6% drop in MARTA ridership. City planners are optimistic initiatives like Soccer in the Streets will turn that around.
Atlanta’s commissioner for city planning, Tim Keane, commented, “What you can see happening—and it won’t take long—is the fields themselves will have this ripple effect that will result in the development of a larger public realm there. It creates a totally different relationship for those neighborhoods with this kind of West End MARTA station behemoth that’s been there, and it becomes a place that’s central to how the neighborhood functions.”